FreeMarket: Challenges, Card Decks and Memories

Freemer Fever seems to have taken hold in my brain.

After my first pass of the FreeMarket beta rulebook I’m giving it a more sedate reading, spotting bugs (i.e. typos and grammatical errors) and submitting them to the bug report page as I go (Firefox’s Find utility makes seeing whether anyone else has spotted a bug already easy).

I’m also thinking about how I’m going to run it for whomever decides to give it a whirl with me.

I’m glad to say I’ve already got one person keen, a co-worker who has never played in an RPG before. I think the quirky, semi-philosophical, semi-political, off-the-wall-SF nature of the game is what hooked her, and I want to make sure she’s thoroughly entertained. I’ve sent some requests to some other gamers, but I’m starting to wonder if I can rope any other non-gamers in. Either way, I’m aiming to run a session sometime mid-January.

Vickie’s declared she’s out of this one, by the way; her current condition is giving her a bit too much trouble for “sitting and thinking”, as she puts it.

Here are some of the things I’ve noticed about the game as I go. I’m going to try and stay away from specifics, as I don’t want to give the game away and although I think it’s pretty much done rules-wise, I don’t really know whether anything is going to change between now and the March launch.

The cards and counters used in FreeMarket.
The cards and counters used in FreeMarket.

One distinct memory comes from finding out how the rules for challenges work. They don’t use dice, they use cards – custom cards.

The beta includes a PDF sheet with fronts and backs, but poor little cash-strapped me was rather horrified to discover that I’d need to somehow do up a forty-five card “challenge” deck not just for myself but for each player, plus a twenty-card communal “tech” deck.

Thankfully, I took a few deep breaths, stopped panicking and realised that the challenge decks actually feature four “suits” of identical cards, while the tech deck features two suits. So, for testing purposes, I can substitute actual playing cards.

Heck, I can buy a few cheap decks and mark them up with a permanent marker if need be (I’ve already done it with dice in order to make some Fudge dice).

The game also requires a few counters, but I have enough poker chips to cover these easily. Actually, I had an idea today to use heart-shaped chocolates for Attaboy/girl counters…

I still have to wonder how many challenge decks the actual retail product is going to include and how much the lot will cost. Thankfully, the current exchange rate means I may still stand a chance of affording the game come March, but I can’t see a 150-page full-colour book plus decks and counters being cheap.

On the second read-through, some of the concepts I was grappling with at first became clearer.

The first is the conflict system.

Any conflict of significance, whether fighting, arguing, doing a deal, hacking, building, repairing or even stealing memories uses the same process, which is cool, and I’m getting a better idea of how you manage the card deck in order to score points. The fact that either user (player) can call an end to the challenge after the first round adds more tactical weight to a user’s choice of what you do each turn.

The second thing that’s suddenly making a lot of sense is how FreeMarket makes a user’s memories an important feature: by making them a form of currency.

As previously mentioned, memories can be traded and even stolen but users can also spend their profiles’ long-term memories on upgrading the profile’s “experiences” (i.e. skills). This makes room for new short-term memories, which are generated from the events of the session; at the end of the session the user can upgrade chosen short-term memories into long-term memories (space permitting). This is a lot more tangible than the more abstract trope of the “experience point” or “level”.

Finally, as memories are how the user tells the superuser “this is something I find interesting about my character and want to explore in session”, upgrading them into experiences neatly says “this particular thing doesn’t really interest me any more, I’m done with it”. So profile improvement is an explicit reward to the user for keeping his or her character and the world of the game in general fresh and interesting!

I also want to touch on the setting.

As I may have indicated in my last post, FreeMarket is pretty setting-light. There isn’t much explicit detail about FreeMarket Station; no maps, few place names and minimal pictures. It gets defined in play, and therefore only the parts that are important to the users get attention.

Still, both users and the superuser get a great springboard for both developing the world and inspiring challenges in the users’ memories; when first creating his or her profile, each user has to define two long-term memories (events of significance in the not-necessarily-recent past) and one short-term memory (an event of significance that happened yesterday) in terms of people, places, objects, actions and/or groups, and each term must be named.

This gives the superuser a working stock of characters to use to make life interesting for the users, and as they’re from the users and not out of some sourcebook which only the superuser is likely to have read, the superuser knows the users are going to be interested and invested in them.

Now, without something to unify them, all the disparate bits of world and character can overwhelm. Which do the users (including the superuser) focus on at the beginning? How do they decide what to do next?

Read on to find out…

Featured image from the Project Donut website; card image from the FreeMarket beta.

2 thoughts on “FreeMarket: Challenges, Card Decks and Memories

Comments are closed.